Although dental staffs are typically small in number, dental teams are often complex microcosms of the world in which we live. It’s not uncommon to have staff with very different backgrounds, experiences, and educations thrown together and expected to work harmoniously side-by-side for some 8-10 hours per day.
Naturally, where there is commonality among employees, alliances and friendships are likely to result. You may have assistants who form strong bonds because of their professional backgrounds, or team members who form social connections because a group of them enjoys watching a particular television show, or others who like certain activities or hobbies. But where ties form among those with common interests, so too can divisions between those on the “inside” and those on the “outside”.
When cliques become a means to erect invisible barriers between employees who then become reluctant to help each other, or share information, or even actively work against another who is outside “the group”, those friendly alliances are creating potentially serious divisions in your practice.
Cliques often materialize from a basic lack of understanding and system breakdown. They can be particularly problematic in practices lacking job descriptions and systems of employee accountability. Consider your practice, do you have a team that clicks or a staff that cliques? Pay attention to the clique clues:
• Critical decisions are being made or pushed by a select few and without input from others.
• Team members are complaining that their views don’t matter, or they are shutting down and refusing to offer input.
• Information is not readily shared unless employees are directed to do so.
• Certain staff members are openly cool to others.
• Whisper campaigns seem to be more prevalent.
• Some employees openly exclude others in social or professional activities.
An appreciation of diverse personalities, clearly defined job descriptions, and maintaining basic office systems all can significantly reduce tensions among staff and fuel an environment of cohesion rather than division.
Take these steps to break down staff cliques and build a team that clicks:
Recognize that individual personalities can and do make a significant difference in how individuals react to one another. Invest a small amount of time and resources in personality testing. Staff members who understand the personalities of their colleagues, including the dentist, are much better prepared to work with them effectively.
Clearly define job responsibilities. With job descriptions, team members understand their role on the team. Moreover, they recognize who is responsible and accountable for which systems.
Hold regular staff meetings to address issues that arise in the practice. Dynamic teams are going to have disagreements. It’s fundamental to growth and the pursuit of excellence. Encourage staff to work together to resolve issues and address matters that they feel should be addressed.
Create an environment that encourages teamwork. For example, if appointment failures are wreaking havoc on your day, discuss the matter in a staff meeting and urge input and ideas from across the staff. Then assign two or three employees to develop a strategy to address the problem. Be careful that the “task force” crosses “clique lines.”
Insist that clear information be shared among the team. For example, hold a brief staff huddle each day to make sure that the front office staff know exactly where to place emergency patients, to ensure there are no surprises. Give them necessary details on time required for procedures and charges associated with those procedures, so that they can dismiss patients efficiently.
Establish clear standards for office behavior and policies and spell it out in an employee handbook or policy manual. Then follow those policies. If you routinely make exceptions, you send the message that the policies are irrelevant and everyone can simply do their own thing without regard for how it will impact the patients, the team, and the practice.
Don’t look the other way. If an employee is engaging in negative behaviors that are potentially damaging, don’t ignore it. Doing so implies that you approve and further encourages a culture of distrust and division.
Reward teamwork and make an effort to acknowledge the success and positive contribution of every employee. Doing so will promote a team that clicks rather than a staff divided by cliques.
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